Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Call It Torture

I've been trying to find a way to post on this topic for weeks. The way the torture issue is being bandied about in the press lately has me incensed.  After all, that's why I started this blog—as an outlet for my outrage—so here goes.

The primary source material for this post is a recently-leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) (PDF). As far as I am concerned, the ICRC is an unimpeachable source of information. Sadly, the same cannot be said of politicians, government officials or even certain high level members of our intelligence community. Based on the following information about the CIA detention program, you tell me if what we've done (yes, WE have done this) to some human beings can be called anything other than torture.

Arrest and Transfer

The ICRC reported on 14 cases. Each of these individuals was captured between 2002 and 2005, not by US Armed Forces on a battlefield, but by national police or security forces in one of four countries. The fourteen were moved around from one detention site to another, at least 3 and for some, 10 times before finally arriving at Guantanamo in September 2006. They were never told where they were being sent, but several deduced that Afghanistan was the first stop. A CIA 'black site' in Poland was another likely destination.

The transfer routine was fairly standard. The detainees were stripped naked, cavity-searched, photographed, dressed in a diaper and tracksuit, blindfolded, fitted with earphones and shackled into position on a plane where they remained until arriving at the new location. Flight times varied from one hour to more than twenty-four hours.

naked man sitting, confined

Continuous Solitary Confinement

The length of detention for the fourteen ranged from sixteen months to four and a half years. They were held incommunicado the entire time. They were allowed no contact with anyone other than their interrogators and masked prison guards. No family. No news. No independent third parties.

posed naked man standing


The detention regime was extremely harsh, especially during the initial period which lasted up to several months and included:
  • Suffocation by water
  • Prolonged stress standing, naked, arms chained above head for two to three days at a time, often with no toilet access
  • Beatings by use of rope attached to a collar around the neck to forcefully slam the head and body against a wall
  • Beatings involving kicking to the body and face, slapping and punching
  • Lengthy confinement in a small box to severely restrict movement
  • Prolonged nudity for several weeks to several months
  • Sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours through forced stress positions, cold water, repetitive loud noise or music
  • Prolonged exposure to cold air, dousing with cold water and cold water immersion
  • Prolonged shackling of hands and feet
  • Threats of ill-treatment to the detainee and his family
  • Forced shaving of head and beard
  • Deprivation of solid food for up to a month

Further Deprivations

In addition to the torture treatment outlined above, the fourteen were also deprived of access to the open air, exercise, appropriate hygiene facilities and the basic items that go with it, and restricted access to their holy book. 

These 'enhanced techniques' must be viewed in their totality. The ill-treatment did not consist of a single technique now and then, but all the techniques one after another or in conjunction with each other.

The ICRC defines torture and other prohibited ill-treatement as follows:
  • Torture: existence of a specific purpose (e.g., to gain information) plus intentional infliction of severe suffering or pain;
  • Cruel or inhuman treatment: no specific purpose, significant level of suffering or pain inflicted;
  • Outrages upon personal dignity: no specific purpose, significant level of humiliation or degradation.
Yes, we did torture at least these fourteen "high-value detainees."  Yes, this ill-treatment is against the law.  Therefore, the people who authorized this treatment, the people who wrote legal opinions attempting to justify it, as well as the people who carried it out, are criminals.

I cannot imagine why anyone would allow these criminals to escape an impartial investigation and a rigorous prosecution.  We cannot turn the clock back and undo what we did.  Likewise, we cannot just turn away and leave this wound to fester.
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